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Oklahoma is OK: Artist Ed Ruscha at Oklahoma Contemporary

6:11 AM EST on February 18, 2021

Though born in Nebraska, artist Ed Ruscha spent many developmental years—about fifteen of them—here in Oklahoma. Since then, he’s moved on to bigger places and better things, but his work has always managed to keep this state very close to his heart.

As a visual celebration of his life and art, Oklahoma Contemporary, 11 NW 11th Street, will present Ed Ruscha: OKLA starting today. Focusing on his sixty-plus year career and his ties to the state, the exhibition will feature known art like “Twentysix Gasoline Stations” and “Chocolate Room” as well as newer pieces of work that guarantee a full spectrum of who exactly Ruscha is.

“(Oklahoma) is an unbelievable, romantic place to me,” Ruscha said. “Every time I return to the state I want to drive out to the panhandle because it’s so austere and beautiful. It sort of revives my entire feeling about the state of Oklahoma.”

Linked closely with the Pop Art and beat generation movements, Ruscha moved to raucous Southern California in the sixties when his work began to take off, with pieces such as “Standard Station,” “Large Trademark” and the remarkable Every Building on the Sunset Strip, a book which featured photographs of the famed Los Angeles street.

But it wasn’t until the seventies when he started to experiment with pastels to create photo-realistic excursions of the mountains and country, along with other renowned artwork that used materials such as gunpowder, blood and vinyl. For example, in the OKLA exhibition, the piece “Chocolate Room” uses, of course, chocolate.

What makes Oklahoma Contemporary’s exhibition of this work so fascinating, however, is that as you see the art and his fascination with this land, it feels hard not to be a part of it. Beyond the visual stimulation, the memories of living here the pieces invoke are, for me at least, a main reason to visit Ruscha’s art at the gallery.

“I associate a certain dialect to Oklahoma that I find completely charming,” Ruscha said. “It might be something like “He up and went downtown!” or “I can’t find my keys nowhere!” That kind of stuff originates in that part of the country and it triggers good thoughts to me.”

The exhibition will feature over 70 of his works that range from paintings and installations to books and films, all housed in Oklahoma Contemporary’s newly constructed museum. For Ruscha, however, it’s the chance to show the people of this state a rare opportunity at how Oklahoma turned him into one of America’s most vaunted artists.

“I wish I could look back and talk to me at age eighteen and say “Do you realize what your getting into?” Ruscha mused. “You’re going to get on a magical mystery tour and it’s not going to be all hearts and flowers!”

For more information, go to Oklahoma Contemporary for details and times.

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Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

Notes:

Installation view of Ed Ruscha: OKLA. Photo by Trayson Conner.

OK (State I), 1990. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of The Jane & Marc Nathanson Family Foundation. © Ed Ruscha. Photo by Trayson Conner.

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